"Not really, Miss. I'd 'eard of 'im, but, y'know, poetry's not up my alley, to tell you the truth."
Maisie smiled and continued. "Priscilla has three boys. She calls them the toads' and says they are just like her brothers, always up to something. She's back in London to look at schools for them for next year. She and Douglas have decided that the boys are growing up and need to have a British education."
Billy shook his head. "Don't think I could part with my nippersoh, sorry, Miss." He pressed his hand to his mouth, remembering that Frankie Dobbs had sent Maisie to work as a maid in the home of Lord Julian Compton and his wife, Lady Rowan, when her mother died. At the time, Maisie was barely thirteen years old.
Maisie shrugged. "That's all right, Billy. It's well past now. My father was doing what he thought best for me, and no doubt that's what Priscilla is doing. Each to their ownwe've all got to part one day, haven't we?" Maisie shrugged. "Let's just get these bills finished and go home."
For the past year, Maisie had lived at Lord and Lady Compton's Belgravia home. The accommodation had been offered to Maisie in the context of a favor to Lady Rowan, who wanted someone she trusted living "upstairs" during her absenceMaisie was now an independent woman with her own business, since her mentor and former employer, Maurice Blanche, retired. So instead of a lowly bed in the servants' quarters at the top of the mansionher first experience of life in the householdMaisie occupied elegant rooms on the second floor. The Comptons were spending more time at Chelstone, their country home in Kent, where Maisie's father was the groom. It was generally thought that the Belgravia property was now retained only to pass on to James, the Comptons' son who managed the family's business affairs in Canada.
For most of the time, Maisie was alone in the house but for a small complement of servants; then at the end of summer, Lady Rowan would sweep into town to take up her position as one of London's premier hostesses. However, extravagance had been curtailed since last year when Lady Rowan, with a compassion uncommon among the aristocracy, declared, "I simply cannot indulge in such goings-on when half the country hasn't enough food in its belly! No, we will draw in our horns and instead see what we can do to get the country out of this wretched mess!"
Upon arriving at Ebury Place that evening, Maisie brought her MG to the mews behind the mansion and noticed immediately that Lord Compton's Rolls-Royce was parked alongside the old Lanchester and that George, his chauffeur, was in conversation with Eric, a footman who took charge of the motor cars when George was in Kent.
George touched his forehead and opened Maisie's door for her. "Evening, m'um. Very nice to see you."
"George! What are you doing here? Is Lady Rowan in London?"
"No, m'um, only His Lordship. But he's not staying. Just a business meeting and then to his club."
"Oh. A meeting at the house?"
"Yes, m'um. And if you don't mind, he's said that as soon as you returned he'd like you to join him in the library."
"Me?" Maisie was surprised. She sometimes thought that Lord Compton had merely indulged his wife in her support of her in the early years of her education, though he had always been nothing less than cordial in his communications.
"Yes, m'um. He knows you're going out later, but he said to say it wouldn't take long."
Maisie nodded to George and thanked Eric, who stepped forward with a cloth to attend to the already shining MG. Instead of entering through the kitchen door, an informality that had become her custom, she walked quickly to the front entrance, whereupon the door was immediately opened by Sandra, the most senior "below stairs" employee in the absence of the butler, Carter, who was at Chelstone.
From Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. Copyright Jacqueline Winspear 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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